Searching for New Rules of the Game between Russia and the EU

Russia will not adapt to European norms and rules of behavior, and therefore, it is important to identify new principles of cooperation.

On May 17 in Brussels, the Valdai Discussion Club and the European Policy Centre held a discussion titled "Russia and the EU: what options for a retuning of relations?" This event was the Valdai Club’s third in a series of EU-Russia dialogues. In April, the Club’s report was discussed with European experts in Rome, and in early May, the report was presented at the Valdai Club conference center in Moscow. The main theses of Valdai Club’s report on the prospects of Russia-EU relations were presented at the event in Brussels.

According to Timofei Bordachev, Valdai Club Programme Director and one of the authors of the report, its goal was not to blame each other, but to work out new principles of relations, new rules of the game between Russia and the EU. According to Bordachev, both Russia and the EU are currently facing serious challenges, and that today there is an urgent need for a joint search for solutions.

According to the Russian participants, Russia will not adapt to European norms and rules of behavior, and therefore, it is important to identify new principles of cooperation.

Bordachev noted that the Valdai report is focused largely on the procedure for building relations between the EU and Russia. One of the important principles outlined in the report is subsidiarity, the process, favored by the EU, in which issues are resolved at the level at which they can be most effectively addressed. With this approach, Russia would choose the level at which to be engaged in a dialogue with its partners -  individual countries or the EU as a whole.

European experts, in turn, stressed that Russia should not address issues related to the competence of the European Union with individual EU member states, bypassing Brussels.

According to the head of the Russia Department of the European External Action Service Fernando Guimaraes, "the position that Russia should strive to fragment its relations with the European Union, choosing cooperation with Brussels, the member states and non-state actors, of course, would be unconstructive."

European experts also pointed out that the European Union does not intend to respond with sanctions to the economic integration of Russia and its partners in the Eurasian Union. If Armenia and Belarus want to fully integrate economically with Russia, the EU will not respond, but appropriately balances their relationship, Guimaraes said.

He also noted that the EU has never intended to deny Russia’s presence in the neighboring region, and Russia should accept the EU’s strengthening of relations with its “Eastern Neighborhood” partners as much as each of them wanted to. With that, he stated that if the Eurasian Economic Union actually integrates the economy of its member countries, it will, in one way or another, lead the EU to cooperate with the EEU.

According to the discussion’ participants, mutual interest between Russia and the EU still remains; in many areas of cooperation it is not suspended and will develop further.

In general, according to discussion participants, the situation in the relations between Russia and the EU is not changing because of the fact that at the moment it came to a standstill and no one knows what to do next. Both sides agree that “business as usual” is not possible. Given that there is a high degree of interdependence, the main goal remains to be the need to seek a way out, which would suit all sides.

Russian and European experts agreed that the interaction between Russia and the EU should be implemented also in a practical way, and noted the importance of understanding the current crisis in relations.

According to Valdai Discussion Club Research Director Fyodor Lukyanov, the current model of relations between Russia and the EU began to outmode itself in the 2000s, and Ukraine only became a catalyst. However, the crisis in Ukraine will end sooner or later, and the question how the EU and Russia will live in a new world is of vital importance already now. According to Lukyanov, "Globalization as we know it comes to an end, the world is becoming more fragmented." He also noted that EU-Russia relations are now at a very important stage of development and only a joint and open dialogue is possible to find solutions to existing problems.